Re: Genesis and inspiration

From: Don Winterstein (
Date: Mon Jun 23 2003 - 04:41:59 EDT

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    In both your responses you went to far more trouble in rebutting than my =
    criticisms merited! But in doing so you've given me a better =
    appreciation of the depths of your thinking on the subject. However, as =
    you might have expected, while I accept many of your detailed arguments, =
    I remain unconvinced of the general thrust. =20

    Just a few more comments for clarification and possible further =
    discussion: =20

    We wrote in part:
    DW: ...What justifies rejecting a literal meaning here
    when you're taking such pains to be literal elsewhere?

    PR: What is the "clear meaning of a text" and what does "violence" to it
    is often a question of judgment.... =20

    I agree with your extended comments (see below) on this topic of =
    "literality." However, it's still really hard to see how a =
    literal-minded person could interpret Gen. 2:7 as meaning that God =
    brought Adam forth via gestation in some woman's womb. God formed him =
    from the "dust of the ground." In the Hebrew, dust is /aphar/ and =
    ground is /adamah/--both widely used, common words--and taken together =
    they seem to mean precisely what they say: God made Adam out of =
    something like ordinary soil. To make the words mean "a woman's womb" =
    exceeds the limits of literality in my opinion. =20

      PR: I'm not sure what you mean by taking the Tree of Life literally and
    its potential consequences. Are you talking about the belief that all
    humans must biologically descend from Adam to "inherit" "original sin"?

    My mention of the Tree of Life was not intended to have anything to do =
    with original sin. I was thinking mostly of Gen. 3:22, where God =
    mentions that Adam must not eat of the tree of life lest he live forever =
    after sinning--as though the tree had big magic that God himself could =
    not override. Such language flashes "MYTH!" in neon. But suppose Adam =
    never sinned and partook of the tree's fruits. While this supposition =
    is theologically useless--as you've pointed out, a literal-minded =
    interpreter I think would need to consider the possibility and its =
    implications. One who is not literal-minded can ignore it. =20

    PR: ...I don't know of any indication that Abraham made up
    his own myths.=20

    Neither do I, of course; but doesn't everyone need a myth and formulate =
    one if he doesn't have one? Abraham came out of a polytheistic culture, =
    he must have known what the polytheists were saying, he must have known =
    their myths were not useful for him, so I assume he modified theirs to =
    make one that was compatible with the God he knew. =20

    PR: ...[God] gave the blessing of
    marriage between one man and one woman, who are to become "one flesh".
    And this is to be permanent until one partner dies. He wants neither
    polygamy nor divorce.

    What "one flesh" means is certainly not obvious. I don't see the Bible =
    ruling out polygamy except in nations where it would violate civil law. =
    It doesn't violate any spiritual law. =20

    PR: ... I don't
    believe that God would have second thoughts about his plans and return
    to some pre-Christ economy, even if it were only temporarily....=20

    There never was a pre-Christ economy. People of God who lived before =
    Jesus' sojourn on earth owe their status as people of God to Christ =
    every bit as much as those who came after. So God's "economy" has never =
    changed. But some emphases have changed. =20

    One of my basic contentions is that the consummation of the marriage of =
    Christ and the Church is in the future, to take place after Jesus' =
    second coming. I think conservative Christian theologians--those who =
    take the marriage literally--agree. =20

    I further assert that God is now acting as husband in marriages with =
    Christian churches on earth, as he did with Judah and Israel in OT =
    times. Members of such Christian churches will eventually comprise the =
    bride of Christ, but not all such members, because earthly churches =
    include unbelievers, as you point out. But the reality is that the =
    various earthly Christian churches have "personalities" that often =
    differ radically from one to the next. Hence the totality of earthly =
    Christian churches does not fit well the model of a single, unified =
    bride of Christ. A better model is that they are individually, in their =
    earthly existence, wives of God. =20

    In NT times the historical proximity of God the Son shifted the emphasis =
    to the future, to the time when the marriage of Christ with the Church =
    was to be consummated. Regardless of when the second coming was to =
    occur, the proximity of the Son made it seem as though the consummation =
    was imminent or perhaps even already happening. We now know the =
    consummation wasn't imminent as humans reckon time, so we need to fall =
    back to a paradigm where God is husband of earthly churches (whatever =
    they may be precisely is not our concern), and where the consummation of =
    the marriage of Christ and the Church is still in the future. =20

      I have a difficult sales job ahead of me if I want anyone to pay =
    attention to what I'm saying, and I don't want to try to make a lot of =
    headway in this particular context. However, I do hope eventually to =
    make my ideas seem less bizarre. Your willingness to consider them, I =
    think, helps. =20

    DW: After living many decades with these ideas I find them so
    compatible with God, history, science and general observations of the
    world that I feel they'll eventually become widely accepted, the more so
    as the time until Christ's second coming grows. =20
    PR: Fortunately, the time to the consummation doesn't grow, but decrease
    with every day! =20

    (The growth is with reference to Jesus' ascension as starting point. =
    But you probably knew that.) =20


       ----- Original Message -----=20
       From: Peter Ruest=20
       To: Don Winterstein=20
       Cc: Iain Strachan ; asa=20
       Sent: Sunday, June 22, 2003 9:45 PM
       Subject: Re: Genesis and inspiration


       thank you for your comments! At a few points, you still don't seem to
       have understood our (A.Held & PR) intentions - lack of clearness on my
       part (combined with the length restrictions on the PSCF papers) may be
       to blame. Let me try and deal with these questions:

       "Don Winterstein" <> wrote (DW):
       DW: First, I hadn't fully realized from your paper, Genesis
       Reconsidered, that your age-days were intended just to give an
       origin-sequence of categories of things, such as plants of any kind
       coming before animals of any kind. This would mean, of course, that
       many of the age-days would have huge overlaps. Your scheme thereby =
       close in some respects to the one proposed by Glenn Morton on his
       website. But this kind of interpretation seems unnatural to me in =
       of the simple linearity of the simple Genesis narrative.

       PR: A key point of our paper was the distinction between "creating" =
       "making", the latter implying the further development (evolution) by =
       of the entities he created much earlier. And we argued the view that
       even for the first readers, such an interpretation would not have been
       too difficult to understand, as genealogical trees (at least within =
       human domain) were perfectly familiar to them [toledot]. On this =
       it would have been quite natural for them to view a continuation of =
       day's novelties to continue later (such as (1) light, (2) atmosphere =
       water cycle, (3) firm land and plants, (4) visible celestial bodies, =
       "soulish" animals, (6) land animals and humans). If they understood =
       days as long periods of time (which looks likely from the details of
       what is reported), they certainly would not have insisted on all
       different kinds of plants to have been produced (by the land!) at the
       same time, and similarly for animals etc. So, in this sense, overlaps:
       yes, but still a simple linearity of the main novelties characterizing
       the different days/epochs - both creations and new developments. There
       is a clear order that not only fits today's knowledge, but also
       represents an inherently logical sequence, which could therefore be
       understood by the ancients, as well.
       DW: I still think your assignment of /oph/ to insects is at the very
       least inconsistent: Previously you'd said the text failed to mention
       invertebrates because they weren't "living souls;" so why would God
       suddenly assign winged insects, which are mostly "unclean" =
       and presumably also not living souls, such importance?

       PR: We wrote: "In the waters of the oceans, the second act of creation
       produced 'living souls' [nephesh ghayah]. This designation apparently
       implies sensation, instincts, and deliber-ately con-trolled movements.
       The soul represents a fundamentally novel dimension, the psychological
       domain. Accord-ing to biblical un-der-standing, such animals are the
       first genu-inely living beings; plants are never called 'living'. Noah
       and Israel were forbid-den to eat blood, because 'the soul is in the
       blood', which is 'given for atone-ment'.(1) Ap-parently, only what we
       loosely call 'higher' animals, with a blood circulation and with a =
       serving more than minimal sen-sory functions, are 'living souls', =
       most invertebrates. Although some sensory functions directing =
       are found in all lower organisms, the integrated set of sentient
       capacities characterizing 'living souls' originated perhaps with =
       swimming cartilaginous fish, about 385 Ma ago.(2)=20
       (1) Genesis 9:4; Leviticus 17:11-14.
       (2) Carroll, R.L. (1988), Vertebrate Paleontology and Evolution
       (Freeman, New York), 16-61; Margulis, L. & Schwartz, K.V. (1988), Five
       Kingdoms (Freeman, New York); Cappetta, H. et al. (1993),
       'Chondrichthyes', in: The Fossil Record 2, note 25, 593-609."

       We didn't exclude the insects from the "living souls", only "most
       invertebrates" (as most species on earth are insects, we probably =
       have said, "many"). We characterized the "living souls" as having
       "sensation, instincts, and deliber-ately con-trolled movements... a
       blood [or hemolymph] circulation and... a brain serving more than
       minimal sen-sory functions". That "'living souls' originated perhaps
       with rapidly swimming cartilaginous fish" was not meant to exclude all
       invertebrates, but only to indicate an approximate time-point. =
       to the Precambrian animals (and implicitely to many later "primitive"
       animals), we wrote, "all these lower animals are not explicitely
       mentioned in Gene-sis, not being 'living souls'", but again we didn't
       exclude insects from being "living souls".
       DW: You wrote: "God did not shape Adam as a potter forms the clay, =
       formed him in his mother's womb and then called him as an adult and
       filled him with his spirit for a specific assignment among the
       preadamites." But aren't you doing considerable violence to the clear
       meaning of the text? What justifies rejecting a literal meaning here
       when you're taking such pains to be literal elsewhere?

       PR: What is the "clear meaning of a text" and what does "violence" to =
       is often a question of judgment. And the argument is certainly not =
       impressive when we are dealing with translations, because these can be
       misleading or even plain wrong. What is a "literal meaning"?
       "Literality" is not an either-or, black-or-white proposition. The =
       words and expressions used in the original are important for finding =
       meaning of a text. In this sense, the "literal" is very important. But
       we clearly need to determine what is the best interpretation overall,
       and this often requires a lot of work. Each word or expression has an
       extended and fuzzy field of related meanings, depending on the context
       and even farther environment. In this sense, "literal" may be
       meaningless, and different readers often disagree about it. Such
       considerations don't contradict each other. My sentence you quote =
       represents a condensed statement of a lot of discussion in our paper, =
       well as further considerations. In order to deal with it, we would =
       to go into more details.
       DW: You wrote: "If Adam hadn't sinned, what would God have done? I
       think this is an inappropriate and useless question; the bible never
       considers it." Yes, but if one wants to take the text literally, one
       must take the Tree of Life literally and its potential consequences. =
       while I agree that the question is theologically useless, it's not
       inappropriate. The question is appropriate for making the point that
       the text is not to be taken literally, and that myth is a good
       solution. =20

       PR: I'm not sure what you mean by taking the Tree of Life literally =
       its potential consequences. Are you talking about the belief that all
       humans must biologically descend from Adam to "inherit" "original =
       I believe nothing in the bible implies this. It just is a fact that =
       sinned, as well as all humans (defined as in God's image) before, in,
       and after Adam's time. There certainly is a biological tree of life, =
       Adam is somewhere in it. But this doesn't imply sin "evolved" or is
       natural, because it is intimately linked to the creation of =
       pre-humans into humans (in the image of God) at a very precise moment
       perhaps 100,000 years ago (I don't insist on this figure, only on the
       fact of Adam being much more recent). This doesn't imply that sin is
       "the Creator's fault", but its possibility is inseparably linked to =
       will, personality, and responsability.
       DW: You wrote: "The great problem I see with considering them =
       creation accounts] modified myths is how to distinguish gold from =
       What is inspired, what is not?" It's all inspired, but "inspired" in
       this case means true to what God wanted people to get out of the story
       at that time, and not true in perhaps any other way. Like it or not, =
       all must continuously decide as we read in what sense the biblical =
       are to be understood. Furthermore, those myths probably weren't =
       They could have originated with Abraham, as he certainly did not
       subscribe to the local polytheistic myths as he received them. =20

       PR: I'm glad you accept it all as inspired, and I would also agree =
       "inspired" means true to what God wanted people to get out of the =
       But I wouldn't restrict it to "that time", but consider it to be for =
       times and cultures. I also agree that we must continuously decide in
       what sense the words are to be understood. The Babylonian myths we do
       know (and with which the Genesis stories of creation and of the flood
       are routinely compared) are definitely pagan, polytheistic, and of a
       very corrupted character. They are the most unlikely sources for
       Genesis, but some Genesis stories may very well have been one of the
       sources for them. I don't know of any indication that Abraham made up
       his own myths. In this case we would expect to find some indications,
       perhaps indirect, in the stories we do have about him and his time.
       DW: You wrote: "The OT does sometimes picture God as husband (or
       father) to Israel, but in the NT, it's Jesus who is the bridegroom to
       the Church as his bride, whereas God is consistently referred to as =
       Father." Granted; in NT times God was the Father and Christ was the
       husband. That was a perspective constrained by the historical =
       of God the Son. =20
         It's now 2000 years later, a lot has happened, but one thing that =
       not happened is the second coming of Christ. This means God had
       objectives other than just a quick consummation of history in Christ.=20
       It is then quite natural for God to have reassumed his OT role as
       husband of more than one earthly wife, the wives in this case being
       something like the various branches of Christianity. The future bride
       of Christ will be the unified organism comprising the individual =
       that make up the various wives of God. The various branches of
       Christianity these days are far from united and thus are more
       realistically seen on Earth as several distinct organisms than as a
       single bride of Christ. =20

       PR: Here, I have to disagree. Some early Christians apparently =
       a quick consummation (probably even Paul at an early time, cf. 1 Thes.
       4:17). But we also have explicit statements by Jesus that (1) nobody
       knows the time of Christ's return (Mat. 24:36), and (2) before that, =
       gospel must be preached to every nation (Mat. 24:14), and by Peter =
       (3) God does not want that any should perish (2 Pet. 3:9). I don't
       believe that God would have second thoughts about his plans and return
       to some pre-Christ economy, even if it were only temporarily. He is
       capable to pursue his aims, but keeps respecting the willful
       personalities of his human creatures.

       The separation of Israel from Judah under Rehoboam and Jeroboam I was
       against God's will, but permitted as a judgment. It was the occasion =
       the later image of God having, in Judah and Israel, two wives. But
       that's not a normal situation after God's heart. He gave the blessing =
       marriage between one man and one woman, who are to become "one flesh".
       And this is to be permanent until one partner dies. He wants neither
       polygamy nor divorce.

       Now, in the christian economy, the bride of Christ includes all
       believers and no one else. Nonbelievers don't belong to it, even if =
       are members of some church. A local church or institutionally defined
       church as such does not belong to the bride of Christ. Most of them
       consist of a "mixed multitude" (Ex. 12:38), which is not according to
       God's aim for his Church. None of them can be a "wife of God". He is =
       going to bless this situation of conflicting and contradicting
       denominations by a (polygamous!) spiritual marriage. And how could God
       "marry" parts of the Church (adulterated by a mixed multitude) while =
       is the bride of Christ being prepared to be the "wife of the Lamb" =
       21:9)? Mixing with nonbelievers is good as a means of drawing them to
       Christ, but not for pretending that they are all christians - when =
       are not. In God's sight, members of different church organizations - =
       far as these individuals are believers - even now belong to the same,
       one, inseparable, universal (spiritually defined) Church which is the
       bride of Christ. This means that the ecumenical quest of uniting =
       institutions is entirely beside the point. Any "success" they might =
       in this quest is spiritually irrelevant at best, corrupting at worst.
       DW: This idea in combination with the natural fit to scientific
       interpretations of the world makes God as husband truly a compelling
       theological thesis. The fit to science is good because, if God seeks =
       wife, he would want her to come into existence as independently from
       himself as possible--hence the lengthy and apparently unguided =
       of creation.

       PR: That's exactly why it takes so long to reach the consummation. But
       there is only one wife being prepared - and that for Christ. And God =
       not going to consummate such a marriage early and partially and with a
       corrupt institution.

       DW: The problem of evil also disappears because God's priority is to
       create a "person" independent of any obvious attempts to shape
       her--hence her need to be subject to the laws of the world, which
       include natural catastrophes. As a rule the creation of an =
       wife has higher priority for God than the physical welfare of any
       individual or group.=20

       PR: Here I agree with you.
       DW: After living many decades with these ideas I find them so
       compatible with God, history, science and general observations of the
       world that I feel they'll eventually become widely accepted, the more =
       as the time until Christ's second coming grows. =20

       PR: Fortunately, the time to the consummation doesn't grow, but =
       with every day!

       Grace and peace,

       Dr. Peter Ruest, CH-3148 Lanzenhaeusern, Switzerland
       <> - Biochemistry - Creation and evolution
       "..the work which God created to evolve it" (Genesis 2:3)

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